The two faced each other, weapons drawn, breaths baited, both examining the other, their poise, the angle and length of their blade, and the reach of their limbs. Drops of sweat beaded their foreheads, but they didn’t move a muscle. In their heads, they were already locked in combat, planning out their fighting moves in advance.
“Ahem.” The lady cleared her throat.
And all hell broke loose.
The youth shot forwards, closing the distance in an instant, knowing that his shorter blade was at a disadvantage the further away he was, but that his opponent would be hard-pressed to maneuver his broadsword in close quarters.
But the robber had predicted this.
Letting his sword fall into his left hand, he lashed out in a wide arc, causing the youth to dodge towards the bandit’s right, and directly into the older man’s hefty fist.
“Oof.” The youth complained as he backpedaled swiftly, his face smarting.
The old man gestured with his free hand, taunting the boy.
But the youth didn’t take the bait. Strafing around, he dashed forward a second time, his sword leading, but disengaged.
As soon as the old man swung his sword in a crushing two-handed overhead blow, that’s when the youth made his move.
Flipping his sword up over him, he supported the flat of his blade with his other hand, catching the bandit’s sword above him. Not stopping his movement, he closed the gap between the two, sparks flying along the length of their connected blades. The old man brought back his foot to kick, and that was the opening the youth needed.
Pushing hard with his off hand, the boy slipped out from under the man’s blade, causing the sword to continue its path forward, imbedding itself in the dirt and unbalancing the man. Meanwhile, the youth had his sword ready, and immediately plunged it towards the unprotected chest of the bandit.
But the bandit wouldn’t go down so easily.
With a grunt of exertion, he swept his blade to the right in an explosion of force, catching the youth with the flat of it and sending him tumbling through the dirt.
The youth rolled to his feet, but in the process, his sword had flown out of his reach. Sensing the end of the battle, the old man drew into his final reserves of strength, flipped his blade into his right hand, and plunged straight ahead, driving it directly through the boy’s stomach, half way up to the hilt.
“Oh.” The boy muttered, looking down as he collapsed to his knees.
The bandit approached the boy, his mustache still and somber.
“Terribly sorry it had to turn out this way, lad.” The man apologized. “I really just intended to remove an ear or two, but I’m a bit rusty as you can see. Still, I hope you don’t hold this against me. You did start it, as I recall…”
“Oh, bother.” Philius sighed, reaching down and slowly edging the blade out of his stomach.
“Errr… you might want to avoid moving.” The robber cautioned. “Loss of blood and all that. Well, you’re going to die at any rate, but if you keep removing that sword, it’ll happen a lot faster.”
“No, I highly doubt that.” Philius returned, having wiggled out the rest of the blade. “I don’t have a drop of blood in me, see?”
Sure enough, the wound in his belly was completely spotless, looking like a great lidded eye cut into his midsection.
“Good lord, not another one!” The bandit exclaimed. “Oh, confound it all, I give up.”
Throwing his blade down, he flopped onto the ground after it, curling into a cross-legged position.
“I’m too old to deal with you magic races and your “immortality” nonsense. Just stab me and get it over with.” The old man muttered dejectedly. “At least I’m decent enough to die from ordinary wounds. Harrumph.”
“No, you beat me fair and square.” Philius sighed, pulling a needle and thread from his jacket pocket as he proceeded to sew up the wound in his belly. “Just let the lady leave in peace and we’ll call it even.”
“Actually, if I may…” The woman interjected, approaching the two.
“Oh, what now?” The bandit growled.
“You mentioned that you knew where Eldarth Forest was?” she asked.
“I should hope I do, I live there.” He shot back.
“Perfect, take me there.” She returned, dusting her head off as she picked it up by the bun.
“And why should I go and do that?” he asked.
“Simple; once I get to Eldarth Forest and do what I came to do, you can chop me into kindling, or do whatever it is you want to do to appease your honour.” She offered.
“You…you really mean that?” The bandit asked, his mustache perking up. “You’d do that for me?”
“Is it a deal then?” She asked, holding her head in place with one hand, and offering him her other.
“Gladly!” he exclaimed, rising to his feet and gripping her hand warmly. “It’s a rare pleasure to meet someone as generous as you, ma’am.”
“Chrysalism.” She smiled, returning the shake. “No more “ma’am” or “lady” or “miss”. Just Chrysalism will do fine.”
“Brogan.” The bandit returned. “General Brogan H. Phelps at your service.”
The day was already waning when the small group left the mesa behind, entering into an arid scrubland, bathed orange in the evening sun. Further off in the distance, a blot on the horizon represented their destination, the forest of Eldarth.
“I thought you said it wasn’t far to this forest of yours.” Philius complained, kicking at a prickly shrub.
“Nobody asked you to come along, lad.” Brogan returned haughtily, not even looking back at him.
“Really, why are you following us?” Chrysalism asked, turning her now fully-reinstalled head to size him up.
“Eldarth Forest’s as good as any other destination.” He shrugged. “’sides, where there are people, there are problems. And where there are problems, that’s where I come in!”
“Right, you mentioned that.” Brogan nodded. “Well, it’s a fine goal to want to help those in need, but you may be out of luck. The only people around Eldarth these days are the Toscavs. They’ve near deforested half of Eldarth already, all to build siege weapons for their latest war.”
“Toscavy is at war?” Chrysalism asked.
“When is Toscavy not at war?” Philius asked sarcastically. “Who’s their current victim?”
“Jortnan.” Brogan answered.
“Well, they’re gonna pay dearly for that one.” Philius sighed. “The Jortnans are a tough lot. They’ll fight to the last man, woman, and child for their land.”
“Truth.” Brogan nodded. “Of course, they’ll still be annihilated.”
“Is Toscavy really so tough?” Chrysalism asked.
“In short,” Brogan answered “Yes. Putting their size as a nation aside, their emperor Dravus is nothing short of a genius, assimilating the best parts of the technology and military techniques of the countries he conquers. He wins not by sheer weight of numbers alone, but by exploiting weaknesses in his opponents.”
“In fact, several countries he’s conquered just through economics and political intrigue.” Philius chimed in.
“If it’s truly such a terrifying threat, why doesn’t Etrurium send in their legions and forcibly tell them to back off?” Chrysalism countered. “In the past centuries, the nation of Etrurium has always worked as a peacekeeper between all of the warring nations in Eiropa. What makes this so different?”
Brogan sighed. “Time changes many things, Chrysalism. While that may have been true of Etrurium centuries ago, generations of peace have softened them up. Now the last thing they want is to mobilize their army. Their current Chief of Republic, Orthanaeus, is terribly fond of the words “diplomat” and “ambassador”, and is convinced that flowery speeches and stern rebukes are enough to halt a war-bent country in its tracks.”
“You’re exaggerating, surely.” Chrysalism protested.
“I wish I were.” Brogan shrugged. “Just this week, Orthanaeus delivered a heartfelt declamation against “Villainous Toscavy”, calling them to answer for their crimes. In response, Toscavy’s own emperor Dravus himself arrived in Etrurium for a council, and for the third time this year solemnly swore he wouldn’t invade another country ‘till the day he dies.”
“And Orthanaeus believed him?”
“He certainly did. They’re still celebrating it in the capital.” Brogan made a wry face. “In Orthanaeus’ mind, he’s stopped three wars this year alone. I sometimes wonder if he frames those signed promises of peace so he can hang them next to the other treaties Dravus breaks each time he conquers a new country.”
“How could proud Etrurium have fallen so far?” Chrysalism sighed.
“Decadence, that’s how.” Brogan declared. “The last thing a country at peace wants is to have anything to do with war. As long as it stays far away from home sweet home, it’s somebody else’s problem.”
“That’s the truth.” Philius nodded sagely.
“And speaking of home,” Brogan interjected. “Here we are. The forest of Eldarth."ns188.8.131.52da2